Sean Bean as Boromir unsure about the fellowship's plan in 'Lord of the Rings'
(New Line Cinema)

The 20 Best Fantasy Movies (That Aren’t ‘Lord of The Rings’)

We meet again, m'lady.

*tips fedora*

Recommended Videos

We meet again, m’lady.

Thou hast no doubt already perused my list of the finest fantasy anime of all time. And it seemeth that thou art back for another serving of fantasy grog to fill thy goblet? Thou has come to the right man, for indeed, I am known as somewhat of a scholar of all things fantastical and weirde. Verily and forsooth, one must only asketh any other personage within the grounds of this Renaissance Faire to know that my knowledge is indeed vast and often sought after. If thou seeketh understanding, dear lady, I am for you.

So thou wisheth to know the pinnacle of all fantasy media? Well, I must first tell thee that I shall speak not of The Lord of The Rings Trilogie, for by my troth, it is well known throughout hill and dale that that series is indeed the greatest of all. So much so that many of those who haunt this Faire were inspired to do so only by those films. And that is hardly suitable. Indeed, one must have a broad, dare I say, extensive knowledge of fantasy matters if thou wisheth to be taken seriously here. And as a scholar of no small note and amount of importance, I shall take it upon myself to fill thy delicate, elf-like ears with a plethora of fantastical tales.

Let us begin!

20. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom in "Pirates of the Caribbean"
(Disney)

Oh to be a pirate! Sailing upon the high seas! Searching for bounty and booty! Dropping anchor in far off ports (and dropping in upon the faire maidens that reside there). Indeed, milady, Pirates of the Caribbean speaketh to the inner child within us all. The child that strews the couch cushions upon the floor and sails across the wall-to-wall carpet oceans of their basement in pretend pirate ecstasy! Gore Verbinski’s flagship first film catapulted the charming exploits of one nigh-uncatchable pirate captain directly into the pupil of the public eye! Jack Sparrow is certainly not a man to be outdone. But for you, dear lady, methinks I would try.

19. Your Name (2016)

Ryûnosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi in 'Your Name'
(Toho Co., Ltd.)

What’s in a name? Coud that which we call a rose smell so sweet under any other? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. *Ahem* I forgot exactly how The Bard phrased it, but close enough! Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name seeks to answer the question around the awesome power of names! It is a work of low fantasy, a term whose exact definition brooks much argument in the Forums of the Internet. Needless to say, a modern boy and girl’s world is turned topsy-turvy with the arrival of a mysterious comet! They begin to switch bodies! How terrifying! How … intimate. The pair soon begin to fall in love with one another, but the stars above seek to keep them apart through the greatest gulf: The Gulf of Time.

18. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

A young stands face to face with a giant auroch in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Another work of low fantasy, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild revolveth around a father and daughter who dwell in the bayou wilds of Louisiana. The pair spend their days in merriment! Fishing! Shooting fireworks! Singing songs! Yet an illness plagues the little girl’s father, and he is not long for the world. Meanwhile, in the icy waste of Antartica, a group of prehistoric cattle known as aurochs awaken from their frozen slumber and begin to make their way towards the father and daughter’s home. Are the troublesome cattle real? Are they simply a clever metaphor for the unstoppable advance of death? Or do they serve some greater narrative purpose in the growth of a young girl? My lady, thou art a girl! Thou musteth be able to relate!

17. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl and Sophie in 'Howl's Moving Castle'
(Studio Ghibli)

A poem on the subject: Oh to be a pretty man! Living in a pretty land! Where castles walk on chicken feet! Tipping my hat to maids I meet! That is how the wonderful wizard Howl of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle wiles away his days! After the young Sophie is cursed with an old maid’s visage by a dastardly witch, the 90-year-old girl wanders out into the wilderness to seek out the wizard Howl for help. But it seems that the ingredient for breaking the spell requires something not found in any potion or charm. It is found in the heart! Not cholesterol! I speak of love! Howl and Sophie must fall in love!

16. Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

A furry monster stretches its arms in front of a young boy in "Where The Wild Things Are"
(Warner Bros.)

Did we not all own a copy of Maurice Sendack’s classic children’s tome Where The Wild Things Are in our youth? Did we not all pine to fly away to a land of monsters and freedom? Did we not all thirst for power? The divine rite to crown ourselves as King of the Beasts of Land, Aire, and Sea? While the original tale was meant for wee children, Spike Jonze’s film is designed to make adults feel all sorts of painful and nostalgic feelings about growing up! How we must all put away childish fantasies and face the real world… or simply live in a camper car in the parking lot at the local Renaissance Faire and avoid said reality!

15. Big Fish (2003)

A man stands in a field of yellow flowers in "Big Fish"
(Sony Pictures)

Tim Burton’s Big Fish is a tale of the teller of the tallest of tall tales! A man whose story-weaving talents would make the wittiest of bards green with envy! Edward Bloom has lived an enchanted life. He has walked with giants! Waylaid with werewolves! Whiled away his time with witches! The problem? His dear son Will cannot separate the facts of his father’s life from the fictions! Foolish lad, does he not know that the embellishments are the best part of the story? Verily, that is why I tell everyone that the car I live out of is a 2023 Tesla and not a 2001 Buick LeSabre!

14. The Shape of Water (2017)

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) presses her forehead against a glass tank that contains an amphibious humanoid creature (Doug Jones) in a scene from 'The Shape of Water'
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water reminds us that love doth occur in the strangest of all places! Sometimes love blossoms between a custodian and a fishman in top-secret government facilities. The tale is certainly an arousing one for sure! Who knew that the communion between a gilled creature and a human woman could cause such a stirring in the loins of the collective pop culture consciousness?

13. The Seventh Seal (1957)

A crusader plays chess with death in "The Seventh Seal"
(AB Svensk Filmindustri)

Fantasy movies are known for many things! Magic swords! Slain dragons! Jewel-encrusted cups! Baudy wenches of all genders! Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal has absolutely none of these things! The lion’s share of the film consists of a Templar Knight locked in a life-and-death battle of … chess. By mine honor, I swear it is exciting! In a cerebral, existential sort of way! Think of it less of a swashbuckling adventure tale and more of an intellectual discussion of weighty themes such as mortality! Religion! Death! The apparent silence of God in the godless world! Oh dear, I’m getting depressed.

12. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghiblil film
(Studio Ghibli)

Coming from distant lands to the East (far beyond Mordor … a jest!) comes this thrilling tale of Man versus Beaste. The tale is set in the ancient days of a land not unlike Japan, where god, demon, and Samurai warrior roamed. A young prince must embark on a thrilling quest to lift a curse placed on him by a forest god whose spirit hath become corrupted by a ball of iron. His quest bringeth him across the warlike countryside to a town of iron from whence the ball originated. The townspeople employ themselves by downing the mighty trees of the surrounding forest in order to diggeth up the rich deposits of iron ore that lay beneath the soil. However, a young maiden of the forest (who hath been quite literally raised by wolves, nay, wolf gods) is attempting to wage war against the industrious townspeople in order to protect her forest hearth and home.

The young prince, like a certain airbender from a certain Nickelodeon show, attempts to quell the tide of violence and bring balance to the world. But indeed, that balance is madeth even more precarious when a certain monk arrives in the forest on a quest to bring the Emperor the head of the Forest Spirit, threatening not only the relationship between man and nature, but the spirit that defendeth nature itself.

11. How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

(Dreamworks)

This movie had no right under the laws of the King to be as good as it was. Indeed, I remember peeping a trailer for the film in the days of yesteryear and thought “How quaint, a minor bard hath spun a tale of silly seafaring folk attempting to tame one of the deadlie of beastes in all of fantasy. I shall attend the premiere and have a fine guffaw.” But indeed, I was made a fool (a difficult feat) for the film indeed hath depth and heart like no other film I had seen in years.

The soundtrack is sublime, the vocal performances are superb, and the story is a tender tale of boy and beast working together to overcome their physical disabilities. It is a fine film for wee children and adults of all ages, and verily, the sequel is quite good as well.

10. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth Pale Man
(Warner Bros)

Pan’s Labyrinth is a bloody and horrible tale not suited for the tender hearts of faire ladies like thyself. It is a dark tale set in the darkest of locations, the “real world.” It takes place in the distant land of Spain, plagued by horrific civil war. The story concerns a young girl whose mother hath recently married a most ungentlemanly army captain, and hath relocated the family to live in a strange manor house deep within the forests.

One night, the girl is startled by a weirde sort of insect that leads her to an equally weirde sort of labyrinth behind the manor. The girl is then transported to a mystical world where she is met by a forest faerie named Pan, and tasked to complete three dangerous trials in order to acquire immortality. The girl must face both horrid beast and person alike, for her stepfather himself is more monster than man.

9. The Princess Bride (1987)

Westley and Princess Buttercup in the Princess Bride
(20th Century Fox)

Hark ye, this tale romantic tale is perhaps one of the finest love stories of the 20th century—I mean, of medieval times. (Can’t dropeth the bit now, we’re in too deep!) The tale concerns a young maiden named Buttercup, who hath gotten “the hots” for a strapping farm boy named Wesley. The two meet and play their love games in secret, but Wesley is called away for a manly and sea-faring adventure that is far too perilous for a lady to accompany him.

Five years passeth, and the maiden is stricken with grief, for she believes her beloved to be dead. She is then forcibly betrothed to a scoundrel named Prince Humperdink, and she believes her luck to have “runneth out.” But fear not, m’lady! For indeed, Wesley returns from his adventures under a clever pseudonym and arrives to save Buttercup from her woes with his strong sword arm and tender kiss! And he does not come alone! For he hath brought with him a merry band of adventurers including a kind-hearted giant and a dashing Spanish swordsman who craves to find and destroy the man who smoteth his father. But in spite of such fierce things, it is indeed beautiful tale.

8. Labyrinth (1986)

(Warner Bros.)

Labyrinths abound on this list! But while the labyrinth of Pan is populated by a hideous assortment of monsters not suitable as the subjects of chivalric conversation, this labyrinth is populated by muppets! O how joyous! A young maid is trapped within a strange and ruinous labyrinth, and must needs treat with the mysterious Goblin King and his tremendous codpiece! The King is played by musical wizard David Bowie. The man may be far more talented than I, but my codpiece is far superior.

7. Wings Of Desire (1987)

Angel of Wings of Desire
(Basis-Film-Verleih GmbH)

Another modern addition to a genre usually set within the ancient past! Though the days of yore be long forgotten, a few creatures still remember them. Such are the angels! Heavenly beings who are charged with the noble task of watching over the human populace of Berlin! Yea, all goeth well until one angel spies a beautiful mortal maid, and forsakes his heavenly birthright in order to live with her as a man. O my lady! How I empathize! Were I a being from above, I would strip myself of my wings and plummet to Earth so that I might bask in the divine light of your glory!

6. The Neverending Story (1984)

Noah Hathaway and Falkor in 'The Neverending Story'.
(Warner Bros.)

Oh my lady, my love for thee is a ne’er ending story, but that is beside the point. This story, however, is so gripping that it quite literally pulls you in.

Scene 1: A Bookstore. The troubled young Bastian begins to read a tale about a faraway land known as Fantasia, where the child warrior Atreju must do battle with an otherworldy evil force known as The Nothing. Bastian becomes so engrossed with the story that he falls into it! He must now do battle with The Nothing from atop a magnificent puppet dragon!

5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
(Columbia Pictures)

A high-flying action and adventure tale of the Far East! This pretty film is a reimagining of the wu-xia genre! What is wu-xia, I see your delicate eyes ask? Allow me to explain in detail.

The term means “martial heros” in the language of Mandarin, and details the quests of noble warriors fighting for honor and chivalric ideals! In this film, an ancient sword called Green Destiny is stolen by a thief in the night and brave warriors must fight to see it returned! O the “wire-fu” action sequences are like none other!

4. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

arnold works it as conan the barbarian
(Universal Pictures)

The pinnacle of Wagnerian fantasy! The pinnacle of practical effects! The pinnacle of primal manliness! Yea verily, this film hath carved out a space for itself with the high vaults of fantasy heaven! And done with the mythical sword of Conan! Critics jape that the film is “goofy” and “trite” but how wrong they are! Admire the beauteous Spanish deserts! Admire the production design! Admire the moment when Sir Arnold Schwarzenegger smites a camel with his fist!

3. Spirited Away

Haku and Chihiro in 'Spirited Away'
(Studio Ghibli)

Spirited Away may appear with the visage of a children’s story, but looks can be deceiving! Verily, Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus is a dark tale. A tale of a young girl who is taken to the Realm of Spirits after she and her family linger in a haunted town after sunset. The magic of a witch turns the girl’s parents into pigs, and the young maid must figure out a way to save them from their terrible fate! How else can a young scion support a deadbeat mother and father? By getting a job! The girl finds gainful employment in a bathhouse for spirits! All while seeking a way to break the spell as bewitching as thine gaze, m’lady. But a spell like that can ne’er be broken.

2.The Dark Crystal (1982)

Jen and Kira from the dark crystal
(Universal Pictures)

Huzzah! This is a fine tale of tender romance, horrid monsters, and puppets! Yes, puppets! Such fun! Such frivolity! Each and every character in the film is played by a puppet, designed by that master bard and puppet craftsman Sir Jim Henson. The tale concerns (as many of the best tales do) a young boy and girl.

Indeed, the fate of the world rests on the boy’s shoulders, and the girl provides “moral support.” (My eyes, they rolleth.) In the mythical world of Thra, the boy is tasked by a strange race of elder beings to heal their dying world by reuniting a shard of the titular “dark crystal” with the rest of its whole. After obtaining the crystal shard from an olde crone, he encounters a young maiden who helps him on his quest. The pair must do battle against an evil race of bird-like beings who jealously guard the crystal and sup from its awesome power in order to prolong their lives.

And while it is the male of the pair who is able to save the world and reunite the crystal shard to its whole, the female helps him by nobly sacrificing her life so that he may complete his quest. She is resurrected, of course! Ha! Ha! Spoilers! And indeed my lady, should you ever lay down your life in service of me, I would no doubt search the land from the Shivering Peaks to the Sundering Sea in order to revive you!

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland in 'The Wizard of Oz'
(Warner Bros.)

Yea verily! I have feeling that we are not in Kansas anymore! The Wizard of Oz is an exploration of what every fantasy-loving moviegoer desires! An escape from reality! Would that we could all get sucked up into the funnel of a storm into a land of emerald-colored magic! The upholstery of my car is emerald where I spilled a particularly potent lime green slushie, and if I squint, I can imagine that I am glimpsing the great Emerald City with Dorothy and her friends! If thou seekest an escape, truly there is no better film.


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Author
Image of Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.